Functional Movement and Sports Massage Therapy

Functional Movement and Sports Massage Therapy

Functional Movement and Sports Massage Therapy
By Matthew Chiu



Functional movement is defined as the body being able to move freely within its structural limitation, involving all the relevant joints and muscles firing sequentially, while maintaining appropriate control and mobility.

How do you know if you have good functional movement? To answer that question, you must ask yourself, “Have I ever experienced any injury or pain that caused me to alter the way that I move?” If your answer is “yes” then, like almost everyone else, you have some form of compensated movement, or in medical terms, “dysfunctional movement pattern”. This dysfunctional movement is actually a naturally occurring protective mechanism that our body employs in order to protect us from further injuries. Our brain receives the signal that certain movements are no longer “safe” after an injury has occurred, and it can be very difficult for our subconscious to unlearn this fear on its own.

To give a clearer example of an injury-induced dysfunctional movement pattern; imagine you’ve rolled your left ankle. Your body will unconsciously shift your weight distribution from an even balance to being heavily dependent on your right side, loading every joint from head to toe onto your right ankle. Given time, your left ankle will heal and you’ll regain pain-free movement, but how confident are you that your bodyweight is once again equally distributed? In the absence of pain as a conscious reminder that your ankle is damaged, you will most likely return to your active lifestyle, perhaps training at the gym or heading out for a run. Without proper rehabilitation of the original imbalance, this activity puts your body at significant risk of re-injury. This is further increased if you choose to undertake complex movement patterns, such as bodyweight squats, where even weight loading becomes critical.

Researches [1,2,3,4] have suggested that post injury, muscle activation patterns change and muscle recruitment is likely to be either impaired or over-activated. This results in repeated injuries, an increased risk of new injuries arising from over-compensation, and chronic inflammation and pain in the joints and muscles, eventually creating a vicious Cycle of even more dysfunctional movement patterns.

Historically, movement without pain has been used as an indicator of full recovery after injury. And that may be true in the majority of cases, if you look only at the nerve, bone, soft and connective tissue recovery. However, as we now know, pain-free movement doesn’t necessarily indicate a fully recovered movement pattern.


A session with a well-trained sports massage therapist targets the muscles and joints relating to the dysfunctional movement pattern. The therapist may work on antagonistic (opposing) muscle pairs to restore the equilibrium between the opposing muscle groups and reactivate muscles that are currently “switched off”. This releases tension in those muscle groups that are currently over-activated. Sports Massage Therapists focus on restoring the fluidity of movement and muscle texture, readying the body for functional movement training that will rid it of its dysfunctional movement pattern.

Sports massage therapists have a more advanced knowledge of anatomy and injury than conventional masseurs or reflexologists, and are able to utilise different manual therapy techniques to aid with injury recovery. Therapists with knowledge of Functional Movement Screens (FMS) and Selective Functional Movement Assessments (SFMA) have the skill to pinpoint the root cause of the compensated movement that has triggered the dysfunctional movement patterns. The therapist will oversee implementation of a well-structured corrective strategy, helping to reload the body with its correct movement patterns and restore the functional movement patterns, restoring equilibrium within the body and reducing the risk of re-injury.


  1. Anderson, k., & Behm, D. G. (2005b). Trunk muscle activity increases with unstable squat movements. Can J Appl Physiol, 30(1), 33-45.
  2. Arendt – Nielsen, L., Graven-Nilsen, T., Svarer, H., & Svensson, P. (1996). The influence of low back pain on muscle activity and coordination during gait: a clinical and experimental study. Pain, 64(2), 231-240.
  3. Bullock-Saxton, J.E., Janda, V., & Bullock, M.I (1994). The influence of ankle sprain injury on muscle activation during hip extension. Int J Sports Med. 15(6), 330-334.
  4. Cholewicki, J., Silfies, S. P., Shah, R.A., Greene, H. S., Reeves, N. P., Alvi, K., & Goldberg, B. (2005). Delayed truck muscle reflex responses increases the risk of low back injuries. Spin, 30(23), 2614-2620.
Matthew Chiu